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I'd learned to set my pack on something when resting, a rock or downed tree, it was just too heavy to lift up and slip an arm through the straps. All morning I'd been doing the same thing. Hike until the struggle to breathe became too much, and my legs were ready to give out, set the pack on one corner, rest two minutes, lean the pack back onto my shoulders, walk, repeat. I wasn't carrying that much. Sixty five or seventy pounds at most. I'm old, and fat, and weak, and the place I'd planned to camp was at 9,600 feet, a good fifteen hundred higher than my truck, and there was no trail.


It was mid October in 2010, that year that ended yesterday. By noon the angle started to ease and my route switched back between widely spaced aspens and sage. I set my pack on a rock uphill of the trail and looked at the view while drinking water. I heard a distinct crack break the stillness. My ears and sight are very sensitive when I'm by myself, I hear the flutter of a birds wing, see the flick of the tail of a chipmunk. I spun around to look in the direction of the sound, the crackling was much larger than a chipmunk. I saw the slowly leaning tree. The lean accelerated as the sound built to a ripping tearing crash as a large tree a couple hundred feet away hit the ground.

Other than viewing all other trees with some suspicion for a few days, the thought I was left with was, a tree fell in the forest and I heard it.

Below is a saola that was captured in a trap ealier this year in Laos close to the border with Vietnam. Scientists thought there were still saola in existance they just hadn't seen one in a few years. The saola is a species and a genus in danger of extinction.


Those words don't carry much weight anymore, they've been overused. "In danger of extinction". Many times those words are used especially in conjunction with "endangered" but without the other qualifying phrases that give meaning. Phrases like "as a subspecies" or "locally in danger of being extinct"

Subspecies extinction is much more serious in that once they are gone there are no more. Locally extinct or more correctly extirpated is fairly meaningless in this day and age of megalopolises and agribusiness. The grizzly bear is not only localy extinct in California but also will remain so in the sprawling Los Angeles mega city for the foreseeable future. Bangkok another sprawling metropolis also named after angels (Krungthep in local parlance), will never see tigers and wild elephants again. Tigers, wild Asian elephants, and grizzlies might well be "locally extinct" in those areas but wasting time calling them so or on futile attempts at re introduction seems a mistake in priorities. Cougars could easily live on Long Island but do they need to?

What about the saola? Is it worth organising a massive save the saola campaign? There are no subspecies. No thriving saola populations in other countries. It is the only species in it's genus. None in zoos. When it is gone it will be gone forever.

Scientists tell us that many plant and animal species will more than likely become extinct very soon due to global warming. I would suggest we need to consider carefully in choosing the winners and losers, because that is what we are doing. We're spending millions of dollars and unmeasurable amounts in sweat equity and outrage over animals that are in no danger of going extinct. Others that are going extinct get hardly a mention, especially fish, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Still others will go extinct despite anything we may try to do to save them.

Does anyone seriously think the polar bear will be around in two centuries except in zoos? It lives in a habitat that will no longer exist. Recent studies show the thickness of the skull to be appreciably less than it's brown colored cousin the grizzly. Even if the polar bear switches back to a more vegetarian and insect diet  it will likely just become prey.

In the upcoming congress the endangered species act is likely to come under pressure due to wolf reintroduction. I'm fairly sure some sort of changes will be made for mister lupus. The endangered species act (ESA) was a great act in it's time. It focused attention on those species we were worried about losing forever. Eventually the ESA  became a method of preserving habitat. If a species lives in an area no development or disruption can occur. A prime example would be logging and the spotted owl. What was important wasn't so much the owl, which is still being out competed by a more robust owl, but the habitat for many other species that the owl lived in.

I think it's time to consider scrapping the ESA entirely. I'm doubtful the polorized congress could ever come together enough to make new environmental law but that's what is solely needed. We need to use scientific measures of an animals true danger of extinction. The ESA is of course a political construct from decades ago, we need a more scientific one that considers the more immediate threats we face today.

If you look at the Wikipedia page for any species you'll see on the right hand side of the page a photo of the animal. Below that there is a classification given by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the international body for classifying animals by their danger of extinction. Ratings range all the way from "least concern" way down on the right side, to extinct over on the left. Typical animals of least concern are wolves and cougars, typical of critically endangered are saola and California condors.

Two large mammals from the links above will more than likely soon be extinct in the wild, one might well never again walk the earth even in captivity. Of course charismatic mega fauna are eyeball attractants. People like beautiful photos of large animals to which we can attach human attributes. I often hear words such as innocent, loyal, brave, courageous, and kind, used to describe actions of animals which are actually not self aware.

Below is a graph showing percentage of species that are critically endangered, endangered, or threatened. Two of the large mammals I linked to above aren't even on the graph, do you know which ones? I'm not advocating kissing frogs but 1/3 of the amphibians on earth are listed as threatened or above.


I'm also not a scientist, and scientists often disagree, but with so many of the animals on earth endangered due to global warming and loss of habitat it might well be beneficial to base our efforts at conservation on science.

This is the first in a two part post, the other will involve more trees falling.

Originally posted to ban nock at DKos on Sat Jan 01, 2011 at 05:39 AM PST.

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